Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution
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Eleventh Amendment to the United States Constitution

The Eleventh Amendment to the United
States Constitution, which was passed by Congress on March 4, 1794, and ratified
by the states on February 7, 1795, deals with each state’s sovereign immunity and
was adopted in order to overrule the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in
Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419. Text
The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any
suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United
States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign
State. Background
The Eleventh Amendment was the first Constitutional amendment adopted after
the Bill of Rights. The amendment was adopted following the Supreme Court’s
ruling in Chisholm v. Georgia, 2 U.S. 419. In Chisholm, the Court ruled that
federal courts had the authority to hear cases in law and equity brought by
private citizens against states and that states did not enjoy sovereign immunity
from suits made by citizens of other states in federal court. Thus, the
amendment clarified Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution, which gave
diversity jurisdiction to the judiciary to hear cases “between a state and
citizens of another state.” Proposal and ratification
The Eleventh Amendment was proposed by the 3rd Congress on March 4, 1794, when
it was approved by the House of Representatives by vote of 81 – 9,
having been previously passed by the Senate, 23 – 2, on January 14, 1794. The
amendment was ratified by the state legislatures of the following states:
New York — March 27, 1794 Rhode Island — March 31, 1794
Connecticut — May 8, 1794 New Hampshire — June 16, 1794
Massachusetts — June 26, 1794 Vermont — November 9, 1794
Virginia — November 18, 1794 Georgia — November 29, 1794
Kentucky — December 7, 1794 Maryland — December 26, 1794
Delaware — January 23, 1795 North Carolina — February 7, 1795
Since there were 15 States in the Union at the time, the ratification by twelve
States added the Eleventh Amendment to the Constitution. It was subsequently
ratified by: South Carolina — December 4, 1797
On January 8, 1798, approximately three years after the Eleventh Amendment’s
adoption, President John Adams stated in a message to Congress that the Eleventh
Amendment had been ratified by the necessary number of States and that it
was now a part of the Constitution of the United States. New Jersey and
Pennsylvania did not take action on the amendment; neither did Tennessee, which
had become a State on June 16, 1796. Impact
In Hollingsworth v. Virginia, 3 U.S. 378, the Supreme Court held that every
pending action brought under Chisholm had to be dismissed because of the
amendment’s adoption. The amendment’s text does not mention
suits brought against a state by its own citizens. However, in Hans v. Louisiana,
134 U.S. 1, the Supreme Court ruled that the amendment reflects a broader
principle of sovereign immunity. As Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for a
five-Justice majority, stated in Alden v. Maine, 527 U.S. 706:
[S]overeign immunity derives not from the Eleventh Amendment but from the
structure of the original Constitution itself….Nor can we conclude that the
specific Article I powers delegated to Congress necessarily include, by virtue
of the Necessary and Proper Clause or otherwise, the incidental authority to
subject the States to private suits as a means of achieving objectives otherwise
within the scope of the enumerated powers.
Writing for a four-Justice dissent in Alden, Justice David Souter said the
states surrendered their sovereign immunity when they ratified the
Constitution. The dissenting justices read the amendment’s text as reflecting
a narrow form of sovereign immunity that limited only the diversity jurisdiction
of the federal courts. They concluded that the states are not insulated from
suits by individuals by either the Eleventh Amendment in particular or the
Constitution in general. Although the Eleventh Amendment grants
immunity to states from suit for money damages or equitable relief without
their consent, in Ex parte Young, 209 U.S. 123, the Supreme Court ruled that
federal courts may enjoin state officials from violating federal law. In
Fitzpatrick v. Bitzer, 427 U.S. 445, the Supreme Court ruled that Congress may
abrogate state immunity from suit under Section 5 of the Fourteenth Amendment.
In Central Virginia Community College v. Katz, 546 U.S. 356, the Court ruled the
Congress could do the same regarding bankruptcy cases by way of Article I,
Section 8, Clause 4 of the Constitution. In Lapides v. Board of Regents of Univ.
System of Ga., 535 U.S. 613, the Supreme Court ruled that when a state invokes a
federal court’s removal jurisdiction, it waives the Eleventh Amendment in the
removed case. The Eleventh Amendment was affirmed in a
1986 case involving Jesse J. Guidry, secretary of the Louisiana Department of
Wildlife and Fisheries under the administration of Governor David C.
Treen. Voison’s Oyster House, Inc., of Houma in Terrebonne Parish, Louisiana,
sued Guidry on grounds that the department secretary had denied the
company oyster leases. The trial court ordered summary judgment on grounds that
Guidry was exempt from suit in federal court under the Eleventh Amendment. The
United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans also
affirmed the Eleventh Amendment and ordered dismissal of Voison’s suit, not
on the merits, but on the lack of proper jurisdiction.
The United States Court of Appeals for the First Circuit has ruled that Puerto
Rico enjoys Eleventh Amendment immunity. References
External links Clark, Bradford R.. “The Eleventh
Amendment and the Nature of the Union”. Harvard Law Review 123: 1817–1918.
National Archives: Eleventh Amendment CRS Annotated Constitution: Eleventh
Amendment Leaving the Chisholm Trail

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